The presence and extent of permafrost in the Himalaya, which is a vital component of the cryosphere, remains severely under-researched with its future climatic-driven trajectory only partly understood and the future consequences on high-altitude ecosystem tentatively sketched out. Previous studies and available permafrost maps for the Himalaya relied primarily upon the modelled meteorological inputs to further model the likelihood of permafrost. Here, as a maiden attempt, we have quantified the distribution of permafrost at 30 m grid-resolution in the Western Himalaya using observations from multisource satellite datasets for estimating input parameters, namely temperature, potential incoming solar radiation (PISR), slope, aspect and land use, and cover. The results have been compared to previous studies and have been validated through field investigations and geomorphological proxies associated with permafrost presence. A large part of the study area is barren land (~69%) due to its extremely resistive climate condition with ~62% of the total area having a mean annual air temperature of (MAAT) <1 °C. There is a high inter-annual variability indicated by varying standard deviation (1–3 °C) associated with MAAT with low standard deviation in southern part of the study area indicating low variations in areas with high temperatures and vice-versa. The majority of the study area is northerly (~36%) and southerly (~38%) oriented, receiving PISR between 1 and 2.5 MW/m2. The analysis of permafrost distribution using biennial mean air temperature (BMAT) for 2002-04 to 2018-20 suggests that the ~25% of the total study area has continuous permafrost, ~35% has discontinuous permafrost, ~1.5% has sporadic permafrost, and ~39% has no permafrost presence. The temporal analysis of permafrost distribution indicates a significant decrease in the permafrost cover in general and discontinuous permafrost in particular, from 2002-04 to 2018-20, with a loss of around 3% for the total area (~8340.48 km2). The present study will serve as an analogue for future permafrost studies to help understand the permafrost dynamics associated with the effects of the recent abrupt rise in temperature and change in precipitation pattern in the region.
- Western Himalaya
- remote sensing