Biomass-Derived Provenance Dominates Glacial Surface Organic Carbon in the Western Himalaya. uri icon


  • The origin, transport pathway, and spatial variability of total organic carbon (OC) in the western Himalayan glaciers are poorly understood compared to those of black carbon (BC) and dust, but it is critically important to evaluate the climatic role of OC in the region. By applying the distribution of OC activation energy; 14C activity; and radiogenic isotopes of 208Pb/204Pb, 207Pb/204Pb, and 206Pb/204Pb in glacial debris and atmospheric particulate matter (PM10 size fraction), we demonstrate that 98.3 ± 1.6 and 1.7 ± 1.6% of OC in western Himalayan glaciers are derived from biomass and petrogenic sources, respectively. The ?13C and N/C composition indicates that the biomass is a complex mixture of C3 vegetation and autochthonous photoautotrophic input modified by heterotrophic microbial activity. The data set reveals that the studied western Himalayan glacier has negligible contributions from fossil-fuel-derived particles, which contrasts to the central and eastern Himalayan glaciers that have significant contributions from fossil fuel sources. We show that this spatial variability of OC sources relates to regional differences in air mass transport pathways and precipitation regimes over the Himalaya. Moreover, our observation suggests that biomass-derived carbon could be the only primary driver of carbon-induced glacier melting in the western Himalaya.

publication date

  • July 21, 2020