Journal article

Recent glacier and lake changes in High Mountain Asia and their relation to precipitation changes

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  • The Cryosphere. - 2019, vol. 13, no. 11, p. 2977–3005
English We present an updated, spatially resolved estimate of 2003–2008 glacier surface elevation changes for the entire region of High Mountain Asia (HMA) from ICESat laser altimetry data. The results reveal a diverse pattern that is caused by spatially greatly varying glacier sensitivity, in particular to precipitation availability and changes. We introduce a spatially resolved zonation where ICESat samples are grouped into units of similar glacier behaviour, glacier type and topographic settings. In several regions, our new zonation reveals local differences and anomalies that have not been described previously. Glaciers in the Eastern Pamirs, Kunlun Shan and central TP were thickening by 0.1–0.7 m a−1, and the thickening anomaly has a crisp boundary in the Eastern Pamirs that continues just north of the central Karakoram. Glaciers in the south and east of the TP were thinning, with increasing rates towards southeast. We attribute the glacier thickening signal to a stepwise increase in precipitation around ∼1997–2000 on the Tibetan Plateau (TP). The precipitation change is reflected by growth of endorheic lakes in particular in the northern and eastern TP. We estimate lake volume changes through a combination of repeat lake extents from Landsat data and shoreline elevations from ICESat and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) digital elevation model (DEM) for over 1300 lakes. The rise in water volume contained in the lakes corresponds to 4–25 mm a−1, when distributed over entire catchments, for the areas where we see glacier thickening. The precipitation increase is also visible in sparse in situ measurements and MERRA-2 climate reanalysis data but less visible in ERA-Interim reanalysis data. Taking into account evaporation loss, the difference between average annual precipitation during the 1990s and 2000s suggested by these datasets is 34–100 mm a−1, depending on region, which can fully explain both lake growth and glacier thickening (Kunlun Shan) or glacier geometry changes such as thinning tongues while upper glacier areas were thickening or stable (eastern TP). The precipitation increase reflected in these glacier changes possibly extended to the northern slopes of the Tarim Basin, where glaciers were nearly in balance in 2003–2008. Along the entire Himalaya, glaciers on the first orographic ridge, which are exposed to abundant precipitation, were thinning less than glaciers in the dryer climate of the inner ranges. Thinning rates in the Tien Shan vary spatially but are rather stronger than in other parts of HMA.
Faculté des sciences et de médecine
Département de Géosciences
  • English
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