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Glacier changes since the Little Ice Age maximum in the western Qilian Shan, northwest China, and consequences of glacier runoff for water supply

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Based on aerial photographs, topographical maps and the Landsat-5 image data, we have analyzed fluctuations of glaciers in the western Qilian Shan, northwest China, from the Little Ice Age (LIA) to 1990. The areas and volumes of glaciers in the whole considered region decreased 15% and 18%, respectively, from the LIA maximum to 1956.This trend of glacier shrinkage continued and accelerated between 1956 and 1990. These latest decreases in area and volume were about 10% in 34 years. The recent shrinkage may be due either to a combination of higher temperatures and lower precipitation during the period 1956-66, or to continuous warming in the high glacierized mountains from 1956 to 1990. As a consequence, glacier runoff from ice wastage between 1956 and 1990 has increased river runoff by 6.2 km3 in the four river basins under consideration. Besides, the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) rise estimated from the mean terminus retreat of small glaciers <1km long is 46 m, which corresponds to a 0.3°C increase of mean temperatures in warm seasons from the LIA to the 1950s.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2003

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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