EverDrill: Accessing the interior and bed of a Himalayan debris-covered glacier to forecast future mass loss

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: Inst of Geography and Earth Sciences

Abstract

The Hindu-Kush Himalaya is a region that is commonly known as the 'third pole' given the volume of glacier ice that is stored in the mountains - more than anywhere on earth outside the Arctic and Antarctic. Crucially, many millions of people living in the foothills and further downstream rely on the meltwater from these glaciers for their daily drinking, sanitation and irrigation needs. The region as a whole is known to be extremely sensitive to climate change, and the speed at which warming is taking place is greatest at high-elevation - where the glacier ice is located. It is still largely unknown, however, how climate is likely to change across the region in the future, and the impact this will have on melting glacier ice and those that rely on it in their everyday lives.

It is difficult to predict the impacts of future climate change in the region, because we know so little about the glaciers other than what we can measure at the surface. Many glacier models that are designed to predict glacier evolution therefore assume many of the parameters that are unknown, but these parameters are also very important to their functioning - for example the temperature of the ice, the thickness of the ice, and the existence or otherwise of sediment at the ice-bedrock interface. In this project we aim to collect real measurements of these subsurface properties and thus make much more robust predictions of how these glaciers may chance with climate.

We will drill six boreholes at four locations into the Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, which descends from Mount Everest and is one of the largest in the Himalayan region. It is debris-covered for its lowermost eight kilometres but pocked with clean-ice exposures that we can exploit with a hot-water drill. We will gather visual footage of each borehole interior and install a multi-sensor array at the bed at each of the four locations. The arrays will log water pressure, temperature, electrical conductivity and turbidity and how each of these parameters changes through the seasons. At two additional boreholes we will install englacial temperature and tilt strings to determine the thermal and deformation profiles of the glacier.

Existing glacier models are poorly tested to their sensitivity of variability in the input data. It is important to know how the model responds to small changes in the predicted climate for example, compared with small changes in basal water pressure or temperature. These sensitivity tests tell us about the uncertainty in our predictions as well as how the whole climate-glacier system works. We aim to test the sensitivity of the glacier model that we are using to a range of different parameters by adjusting them individually and analysing the change in prediction in each case. Ultimately, we will include our real-world data in the model and make robust predictions of debris-covered glacier evolution under a warming climate.

This work will inform regional policy makers concerned with future water supply, local humanitarian aid agencies who will work with foothill dwellers in periods of flood and drought, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which will inform future climate summits on the world stage, and local people who are dependent on glacier runoff for irrigation, hydro-electric power production and sanitation.

Planned Impact

This research will yield: the first spatially distributed measurements of englacial structure and temperature, basal dynamics and hydrology for a Himalayan debris-covered glacier, a quantitative assessment of the sensitivity of glacier mass balance and ice flow models to their parameterisation and what this informs us about the processes driving climate-glacier interactions, and robust predictions of Himalayan glacier evolution under a warming climate and the impact of this evolution on glacier meltwater contribution to river flow. These data will be of specific interest to those working in the Himalayan region as well as informative for scientists working in other glacierised mountain regions of the world. Methodological advances from this research will be of interest to the technical climate and cryospheric communities, and field glaciologists will be able to use the principles of our methods in their own applications elsewhere.

The main non-academic beneficiary of the research will be policy makers in Nepal concerned both with securing future water availability and energy production from hydro-electric schemes being fed by glacier melt. Local humanitarian aid agencies will also benefit from the impact of our research, through an enhanced understanding of how continued changes in climate are likely to impact on populations that are, in places, entirely dependent on glacier meltwater runoff for drinking, irrigation and sanitation needs. This will clearly benefit the health of local people, and will reduce the requirements for UK-based organisations such as DFID to fund emergency response activities as a result of unexpected changes in water supply.

Our Nepali project partner will benefit from being exposed to new glaciological field techniques (e.g. hot-water drilling) as well as the transfer and discussion of more general climatological and glaciological knowledge. They will also take ownership of the hot-water drill following our final field season so that they have the capability to carry out related research in future projects. Through their teaching and student supervision this knowledge will be to the benefit of future generations of scientists graduating from Nepali universities in environmental disciplines. Second, our partner will benefit from enhanced profile through joint publications and press releases pertaining to our research outputs as they progress. Third, and most importantly, they will benefit from the findings of our research - enhanced knowledge of glacier-climate interactions that will feed into regional management plans and provision of information to the public.

The attached Pathways to Impact document provides full details of the methods we will employ to maximise the benefits of this research to end users. Briefly, they include a workshop for local stakeholders and authorities in Kathmandu, the provision of information summaries to academic and non-academic organisations in the region, and the publication of all data on a University of Leeds project website for access by the academic community as well as the general public. Such forms of information dissemination can be implemented very quickly, so the timescales for the delivery of end user benefits are short (during the lifetime of the project for some, and within a month of the project termination for the remainder). To ensure the impact of our research continues for some years beyond the lifetime of the project we aim to establish partnerships with both Tribhuvan and Kathmandu Universities to promote knowledge-exchange, capacity-building and potential joint PhD projects and staff exchanges.

Publications

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Bryn Hubbard (2019) Ice tilt time-series from sensors installed in boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project in UK Polar Data Centre, Natural Environment Research Council, UK Research & Innovation

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Bryn Hubbard (2019) Ice temperature time-series from sensors installed in boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project in UK Polar Data Centre, Natural Environment Research Council, UK Research & Innovation

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Bryn Hubbard (2019) Summary of instrumentation installed in boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project in UK Polar Data Centre, Natural Environment Research Council, UK Research & Innovation

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Bryn Hubbard (2019) Data time-series from sensors installed at the base of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project in UK Polar Data Centre, Natural Environment Research Council, UK Research & Innovation

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Bryn Hubbard (2019) Borehole optical televiewer (OPTV) logs of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project in UK Polar Data Centre, Natural Environment Research Council, UK Research & Innovation

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Bryn Hubbard (2019) Locations and lengths of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project in UK Polar Data Centre, Natural Environment Research Council, UK Research & Innovation

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Miles K (2020) Hydrology of debris-covered glaciers in High Mountain Asia in Earth-Science Reviews

 
Description Ice heats up dramatically as it passes through high-elevation debris covered glaciers such that the debris-covered tongue section is already close to temperate, meaning they are preconditioned to respond rapidly to future climate change.

The hydrology of high-elevation debris-covered glaciers is distinctive from that of lower elevation, clean-ice counterparts. Our findings indicate that meltwater exchanges in a complex manner between traditionally-recognized surface streams and fast but sinuous subglacial flow pathways.
Exploitation Route These will mainly be used to improve predictive models of high Asian glacier response to anticipated climate change - for example, warmer ice in the tongue will lead to a more rapid response than hitherto considered.
Sectors Education,Environment

URL http://everdrill.org/
 
Description Karcher UK Ltd has developed technology for high-elevation adaptation of combustion-driven pressure pumps in collaboration with us for use by this project. These adaptations have been reported through Karcher and in the news/media.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

 
Title Borehole optical televiewer (OPTV) logs of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project 
Description These are digital optical televiewer (OPTV) logs of four boreholes drilled by hot water to various depths (see Instrumented Borehole Info) in Khumbu Glacier, Nepal. Boreholes were drilled in May 2017 and 2018 to investigate the internal properties of Khumbu Glacier, specifically ice thickness, temperature, deformation and structure, as part of the NERC-funded 'EverDrill' research project. Funding was provided by the NERC grant NE/P00265X/1 and NE/P002021/1. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Data time-series from sensors installed at the base of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project 
Description The datasets are basal probe sensor time series measuring suspended sediment concentration, water pressure, electrical conductivity and temperature. Each sensor was located at a discrete depth within one of six boreholes into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal. Boreholes were drilled in May 2017 and 2018 to investigate the internal properties of Khumbu Glacier, specifically ice thickness, temperature, deformation and structure, as part of the NERC-funded 'EverDrill' research project. Supporting borehole information is provided as a related dataset. Funding was provided by the NERC grant NE/P00265X/1 and NE/P002021/1. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Ice temperature time-series from sensors installed in boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project 
Description The datasets are temperature time series from strings of thermistors, each located at a discrete depth within one of six boreholes into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal. Boreholes were drilled in May 2017 and 2018 to investigate the internal properties of Khumbu Glacier, specifically ice thickness, temperature, deformation and structure, as part of the NERC-funded 'EverDrill' research project. Supporting borehole information is provided as a related dataset. The data are presented in whole or in part in Miles et al. (2018). Funding was provided by the NERC grant NE/P00265X/1 and NE/P002021/1. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Ice tilt time-series from sensors installed in boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project 
Description The datasets are ice tilt time series from strings of accelerometers, each located at a discrete depth within one of three boreholes into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal. Ice deformation can be derived from this tilt data, but has not yet been calculated. Boreholes were drilled in May 2017 and 2018 to investigate the internal properties of Khumbu Glacier, specifically ice thickness, temperature, deformation and structure, as part of the NERC-funded 'EverDrill' research project. Supporting borehole information is provided as a related dataset. Funding was provided by the NERC grant NE/P00265X/1 and NE/P002021/1. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Locations and lengths of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project 
Description The dataset lists information about boreholes drilled by hot water into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal. Boreholes were drilled in May 2017 and May 2018 to investigate the internal properties of Khumbu Glacier, specifically ice thickness, temperature, deformation and structure, as part of the NERC-funded 'EverDrill' research project. The information provided includes each borehole's ID, length, location (at the time of drilling), elevation and instrumentation. Funding was provided by the NERC grant NE/P00265X/1 and NE/P002021/1. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Summary of instrumentation installed in boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, in 2017 and 2018 as part of EverDrill research project 
Description The dataset lists information about the instrumentation of boreholes drilled into Khumbu Glacier, Nepal. Boreholes were drilled in May 2017 and May 2018 to investigate the internal properties of Khumbu Glacier, specifically ice thickness, temperature, deformation and structure, as part of the NERC-funded 'EverDrill' research project. The information provided includes each borehole's ID, length, location, elevation and instrumentation, including the type and depth of each sensor. Funding was provided by the NERC grant NE/P00265X/1 and NE/P002021/1. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes