Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2020, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (6): 380-388.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2020.00380

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60-year changes and mechanisms of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in the eastern Tianshan of China, Central Asia

ZhongQin Li(),HuiLin Li,ChunHai Xu,YuFeng Jia,FeiTeng Wang,PuYu Wang,XiaoYing Yue   

  1. Tianshan Glaciological Station/State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
  • Received:2020-09-27 Accepted:2020-12-01 Online:2020-12-31 Published:2021-01-14
  • Contact: ZhongQin Li
  • Supported by:
    the National Natural Science Foundation of China(41761134093);the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research(2019QZKK0201);the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Class A)(XDA20060201);the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences Open Research Fund(SKLCS-ZZ-2020)


Worldwide examination of glacier change is based on detailed observations from only a small number of glaciers. The ground-based detailed individual glacier monitoring is of strong need and extremely important in both regional and global scales. A long-term integrated multi-level monitoring has been carried out on Urumqi Glacier No. 1 (UG1) at the headwaters of the Urumqi River in the eastern Tianshan Mountains of Central Asia since 1959 by the Tianshan Glaciological Station, Chinese Acamedey of Sciences (CAS), and the glaciological datasets promise to be the best in China. The boundaries of all glacier zones moved up, resulting in a shrunk accumulation area. The stratigraphy features of the snowpack on the glacier were found to be significantly altered by climate warming. Mass balances of UG1 show accelerated mass loss since 1960, which were attributed to three mechanisms. The glacier has been contracting at an accelerated rate since 1962, resulting in a total reduction of 0.37 km2 or 19.3% from 1962 to 2018. Glacier runoff measured at the UG1 hydrometeorological station demonstrates a significant increase from 1959 to 2018 with a large interannual fluctuation, which is inversely correlated with the glacier's mass balance. This study analyzes on the changes in glacier zones, mass balance, area and length, and streamflow in the nival glacial catchment over the past 60 years. It provides critical insight into the processes and mechanisms of glacier recession in response to climate change. The results are not only representative of those glaciers in the Tianshan mountains, but also for the continental-type throughout the world. The direct observation data form an essential basis for evaluating mountain glacier changes and the impact of glacier shrinkage on water resources in the interior drainage rivers within the vast arid and semi-arid land in northwestern China as well as Central Asia.

Key words: Urumqi Glacier No. 1, glacier change, climate change, glacier zone, the Tianshan Mountains

Figure 1

Geographic environment around the eastern Tianshan showing the vicinity of the study site, including the deserts, Gobis and the city of Urumqi"

Figure 2

Temporal changes in glacier zones of UG1"

Figure 3

Annual net and cumulative mass balances of Glacier No. 1 from 1960 to 2019"

Figure 4

Terminus retreat rates of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in the east Tianshan from 1980 to 2019"

Figure 5

Terminus and area variations of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 from 1962 to 2018"

Figure 6

Predicted variations of glacier length (a), area (b), volume (c), and runoff (d) in the future under different climate scenarios. Note that DXG1 (DXG 1959-2004) and DXG2 (DXG 1980-2004) represent two warming scenarios constructed by extending measured air temperature from the Daxigou Meteorological Station (about 3 km southeast of Urumqi Glacier No. 1) in different periods"

Figure 7

Runoff observed at the UG1 hydrometeorological station from 1959 to 2018"

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