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The retreat of glaciers in response to recent climate warming in western China

  • Yongjian Ding (a1), Shiyin Liu (a1) (a2), Jing Li (a1) and Donghui Shangguan (a1)


Glaciers in China are primarily located in the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and surrounding high mountains. The Chinese Glacier Inventory indicates that there are 46 377 glaciers in western China. Meteorological records indicate that air temperature in western China has risen by 0.2˚C per decade since 1951, and 1998 was the warmest year; precipitation in the region increased by 5–10% per decade from 1953 to 1997. Using remote-sensing and Geographic Information System methods, we have monitored the changes in >5000 glaciers over the past 50 years. We conclude that >80% of glaciers in western China have retreated, losing 4.5% of their combined areal coverage, although some glaciers have advanced. In addition, regional differences characterize glacier changes over the past few decades. For example, glaciers in the central and northwestern TP were relatively stable, while glaciers in the mountains surrounding the TP experienced extensive wastage. Mass-balance variations for some glaciers show accelerated ice shrinkage in the last two decades.

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