Supraglacial Ice Cliffs Can Substantially Increase the Mass Loss of Debris‐Covered Glaciers

Pascal Buri, Evan S. Miles, Jakob F. Steiner, Silvan Ragettli, Francesca Pellicciotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The thinning patterns of debris-covered glaciers in High Mountain Asia are not well understood. Here we calculate the effect of supraglacial ice cliffs on the mass balance of all glaciers in a Himalayan catchment, using a process-based ice cliff melt model. We show that ice cliffs are responsible for higher than expected thinning rates of debris-covered glacier tongues, leading to an underestimation of their ice mass loss of 17% ± 4% in the catchment if not considered. We also show that cliffs do enhance melt where other processes would suppress it, that is, at high elevations, or where debris is thick, and that they contribute relatively more to glacier mass loss if oriented north. Our approach provides a key contribution to our understanding of the mass losses of debris-covered glaciers, and a new quantification of their catchment wide melt and mass balance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020GL092150
Number of pages11
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2021


  • Nepalese Himalayas
  • contribution of ice cliffs to glacier melt
  • debris-covered glaciers
  • supraglacial ice cliffs


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