Earth Institute Research Projects

Collaborative Research: Climate and Glacier change in Bhutan: the last millennia, present and future

Lead PI: Dr. Joerg Michael Schaefer , Dr. Edward R. Cook

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2013 - August 2017
Asia ; Bhutan
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This proposal will provide robust information about past, present and future glacier and climate change in the Kingdom of Bhutan, in the southeastern monsoonal Himalayas, and contribute to a more robust scientific platform for decision makers and mitigation strategists. Knowing the rate of glacier retreat in response to climate change is fundamental for any prediction of future behavior and in turn to design adaption and mitigation strategies for societies. However, this rate remains poorly constrained. Bhutan's welfare is linked to glacier dynamics because hydropower generation and agricultural irrigation are fueled by glacier melt. Melting glaciers and the steep relief have made glacial lake outburst floods a prime hazard for the societies of Bhutan and its Himalayan neighbors, and the hazard potential critically depends on current and future glacier melt.

This is an integrated research and education project, combining geomorphology, geochronology, paleo-thermometry, glaciology, and glacier modeling to reconstruct glacier and climate change over the last millennia, and to predict Himalayan glacier change over the next century. This is a multi-disciplinary team of experts with broad experience in Himalayan glacier and climate problems, including a female junior faculty at a primarily undergraduate institution and a special-needs MS student.

This is a US-Bhutan bilateral research and educational proposal, with the Department of Hydromet Services/Ministry of Economic Affairs (DHMS) as the official Bhutanese collaborator, and with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) as the educational partner. Bhutanese students will train in geomorphic mapping (remote and field based) and tree-ring techniques. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will host UWICE students and DHMS and Columbia University's Earth Institute will host UWICE scientists.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Biology & Paleo Environment (B&PE)



Krusic, P.J., Cook, E.R., Dukpa, D., Putnam, A.E., Rupper, S., Schaefer, J.M.. "Six hundred thirty-eightyears of summer temperature variability over the Bhutanese Himalaya," Geophysical Research Letters, v.42, 2015, p. 2988-2994.

Rupper, Summer Schaefer, Joerg M. Burgener, Landon K. Koenig, Lora S. Tsering, Karma Cook, Edward R.. "Sensitivity and response of Bhutanese glaciers to atmospheric warming," Geophysical Research Letters, v.39, 2012, p. L19503.

Krusic, P. E. Cook D. Dukpa A. Putnam S. Rupper J. Schaefer. "638 years of summer temperature variability over the Bhutanese Himalaya," Geophysical Research Letters, 2015. doi:10.1002/2015GL063566

Maurer, J. Rupper, S. Schaefer, J.M.. "Quantifying ice loss in the eastern Himalayas since 1974 using declassified spy satellite imagery," The Cryosphere, v.10, 2016, p. 2203. doi:10.5194/tc-10-2203-2016

Maurer, J. Rupper, S.. "Tapping into the Hexagon spy imagery database: a new automated workflow for geomorphic change detection," Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, v.108, 2015, p. 113.


glacial dynamics glacial lake outburst floods glacier melt climate change agricultural irrigation hydropower monsoon


Modeling and Adapting to Future Climate