Spatial and Temporal Variations of the Firn Line Altitudes in the Asian High Mountains over the Past Decade

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 11:00 AM
Ninglian Wang, Zhongming Guo and Hongbo Wu, CAREERI/CAS Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Lanzhou, China
The Variations of the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of one glacier could determine the glacier’s behaviors, i.e., advance, stable, retreat, or disappeared. In the Asian High Mountains, there exist a huge number of glaciers, but only few monitoring glaciers. This means that we could only obtain the ELA data sets from these few monitoring glaciers in the region, which restrained our understanding for the spatial distribution pattern of the ELA. Considering that the firn line altitude can indicate the equilibrium line altitude, we may investigate the variations of the firn line altitudes on many glaciers to understand the spatial and temporal variation characteristics of the ELA in the Asian High Mountains. Albedo of the firn is usually larger than that of the glacier ice. This phenomenon can be used to discern the location of the firn line on a glacier in remote sensing image. By using the Landsat TM/ETM+ data, HJ-1A/B data and DEM data, we obtained the firn line altitudes on more than 3000 glaciers in the Asian High Mountains, and found that the highest firn line altitude, over 6000 m a.s.l., was located in the Qiangtang area, which imply that the Indian monsoon moisture cause the firn line altitudes lower to the south of the Qiangtang area, in other words, the Qiangtang area is the northern boundary of the Indian monsoon. The firn line altitude was lower than 5200 m a.s.l. in the southeast Tibetan Plateau while lower than 3500 m a.s.l. in the Altai Mountains in 2010. Over the past decade, the firn line altitudes increased by about 30 to 300 m in different areas of the Tibetan Plateau, but decreased by about 80 m in the Altai Mountains.