Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2020, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (6): 491-502.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2020.00491

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Glacier changes in the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018

SuGang Zhou,XiaoJun Yao(),Yuan Zhang,DaHong Zhang,Juan Liu,HongYu Duan   

  1. College of Geography and Environmental Science, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou, Gansu 730070, China
  • Received:2020-05-15 Accepted:2020-09-01 Online:2020-12-31 Published:2021-01-14
  • Contact: XiaoJun Yao


Based on Landsat MSS/TM/OLI remote sensing images, glaciers vector data in the Qaidam Basin were extracted for 1977, 2002, and 2018, and their spatial-temporal variations were analyzed. Results show that there were 2,050 glaciers covering an area of 1,693.54±40.96 km2 and having an ice volume of 108.65±2.43 km3 in the Qaidam Basin in 2018. Glaciers with areas <1.0 km2 accounted for the largest number, while glaciers with areas of 1.0-5.0 km2 accounted for the most glacierized area. In the past 50 years, the number of glaciers decreased by 177, and the glacier area and volume reduced by 338.08 km2 (-8.12 km2/a) and 19.92 km3 (-0.48 km3/a), respectively. Retreat altitudes of glaciers were concentrated at 4,900-5,600 m, 4,700-5,200 m, and 5,000-5,600 m and reduced areas accounted for 95.53%, 77.80%, and 69.19% in the Kunlun, Qilian, and Altun mountains, respectively. The area of north-oriented glaciers decreased the most (-125.43 km2), but the west- and east-oriented glaciers retreated at the fastest rate (i.e., -27.11% and -27.10%). All glaciers showed a decreasing trend in sub-regions of the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018. The decreasing trend was accelerated gradually from northwest to southeast in the northern part of the basin, while glacier change was the smallest in the middle section and gradually accelerated towards both ends of the basin's southern part. The temperature had continued to rise, and the precipitation had increased slowly in the Qaidam Basin during the past 50 years. The continuous rise in air temperature was the main reason for the retreat of glaciers.

Key words: glacier change, climate change, Landsat, Qaidam Basin

Figure 1

The distribution of glaciers in the Qaidam Basin"

Table 1

Landsat images used for glacier interpretation of the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018"

Orbit number

Acquisition date


SensorOrbit number

Acquisition date


144331977-06-11MSS137332000-07-29, 2000-08-30TM
144341977-08-22MSS137352000-07-29, 2000-08-14, 2000-08-30TM
145351976-11-26MSS138352001-07-23, 2002-08-27TM
146331977-04-20MSS139342000-08-28, 2001-07-14TM
146341973-12-22, 1977-04-20MSS139351996-07-16, 1997-07-19, 1998-09-08, 1999-07-25TM
147331978-06-09MSS140332001-07-21, 1997-08-27, 1999-08-17, 2004-07-29, 2001-09-23TM
148351976-11-29MSS141342000-08-10, 2000-08-26TM
150341972-10-02MSS135342016-07-27, 2017-08-15OLI
151331972-10-03MSS135352015-08-10, 2016-07-27, 2017-08-15OLI
133352000-06-15TM136342016-07-02, 2018-07-24OLI
134332000-07-24TM136352015-08-01, 2018-07-24OLI
134342002-07-30TM137352015-08-24, 2017-07-28, 2019-09-04OLI
135342000-07-15, 2002-08-22TM138332016-08-01, 2018-08-07OLI
135351999-07-29, 2000-07-15, 2001-07-02, 2001-08-03TM138352017-07-19, 2019-09-11OLI
139342016-08-08, 2019-09-02OLI
136332000-07-22, 2002-08-29TM139352015-08-22, 2018-05-26OLI
136351999-07-20, 2000-07-22, 2002-08-29TM140342017-08-02OLI

Figure 2

Number and area of glaciers of different sizes in the Qaidam Basin in 2018"

Table 2

Glacier resources of various mountain systems in the Qaidam Basin"

MountainNumberArea (km2)Volume (km3)
Kunlun Mountains1,36866.84%1,146.06±26.2767.67%76.43±1.5470.57%
Altun Mountains803.88%45.16±1.712.67%2.16±0.122.00%
Qilian Mountains60229.27%502.31±12.9829.66%29.70±0.8127.43%

Table 3

Glacier statistics in different basins in the Qaidam Basin"

Basin codeBasinNumberArea (km2)Volume (km3)
5Y51Qinghai Lake241.17%8.83±0.480.52%0.33±0.030.31%
5Y52Qaidam River834.05%13.39±0.920.79%0.38±0.050.35%
5Y53Golmud River41620.29%279.16±8.5216.48%13.76±0.6812.71%
5Y54Taijnar River59729.12%728.21±12.4243.00%56.67±1.852.33%
5Y55Gaskul Lake42520.73%212.53±7.3112.55%9.64±0.578.91%
5Y56Haltang River29414.34%314.98±7.4318.60%20.15±0.518.61%
5Y57Har Lake1115.41%72.96±2.154.31%4.29±0.123.96%
5Y58Yuka-tatalin Gol River904.39%61.56±1.623.63%3.02±0.152.79%
5Y59Bayan Gol River100.49%1.92±0.110.11%0.05±0.010.05%

Table 4

Glacier statistics in administrative divisions in the Qaidam Basin"

Province (Autonomous region)City (Autonomous prefecture)NumberArea (km2)Volume (km3)
QinghaiHaixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture1,20558.79%842.2±22.4749.73%45.04±1.7141.59%
Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture2019.90%425.28±5.6425.11%40.48±1.9337.38%
XinjiangBayingguole Mongol Autonomous Prefecture38418.69%195.91±6.6111.57%9.03±0.518.33%

Figure 3

The changes in the number and area of glaciers in different sizes in the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018"

Figure 4

Glacier area variations with the altitudinal range in the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018"

Figure 5

Orientational characteristics of glacier changes in the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018"

Figure 6

Glacier changes in different mountains in the Qaidam Basin"

Figure 7

Glacier area changes of different sub-basins in the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018"

Figure 8

The change of temperature in ablation and annual precipitation in the Qaidam Basin from 1977 to 2018"

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