Journal of Mountain Science

Glacier changes in the eastern Nyainqêntanglha Range of Tibetan Plateau from 1975 to 2013

Abstract Maritime-type glaciers in the eastern Nyainqêntanglha Range, located in the southeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau, are an important water source for downstream residents and ecological systems. To better understand the variability of glaciers in this region, we used the band ratio threshold (TM3/TM5 for the Landsat TM /ETM+ and TM4/TM6 for Landsat OLI) to extract glacier outlines in ~1999 and ~2013. After that, we also generated a series of glacier boundaries and monitored glacier variations in the past 40 years with the help of the Chinese Glacier Inventory data (1975) and Landsat TM, ETM+ and OLI data. The total glacier area decreased by 37.69 ± 2.84% from 1975 to 2013. The annual percentage area change (APAC) was ~1.32% a-1 and ~1.29% a-1 in the periods 1975-1999 and 1999-2013, respectively. According to the lag theory, the reaction time is probably about 10 years and we discuss the variations of temperature and precipitation between 1965 and 2011. Temperature and precipitation increased between 1965 and 2011 at a rate of 0.34°C /10a and 15.4 mm/10a, respectively. Extensive meteorological data show that the glacier shrinkage rate over the period may be mainly due to increasing air temperature, while the increasing precipitation partly made up for the mass loss of glacier ice resulting from increasing temperature may also lead to the low APAC between 1999 and 2013. The lag theory suggests that glacier shrinkage may accelerate in the next 10 years. Small glaciers were more sensitive to climate change, and there was a normal distribution between glacier area and elevation. Glaciers shrank in all aspects, and south aspects diminished faster than others.

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