Glacier surface melting can be described using energy-balance models. We conducted a surface energy budget experiment to quantify surface energy fluxes and to identify factors affecting glacial melt in the ablation zone of Laohugou glacier No. 12, western Qilian mountains. The surface energy budget was calculated based on data from an automatic weather station, and turbulent fluxes calculated using the bulk-aerodynamic approach were corrected using measurements from an eddy-covariance system. Simulated mass balances were validated by stake observations. Net shortwave radiation was the primary component of the surface energy balance (126Wm–2), followed by sensible heat flux. Net longwave radiation (–45Wm–2) and latent heat flux (–12.8 Wm–2) represented heat sinks. The bulk-aerodynamic method underestimated sensible and latent heat fluxes by 3.4 and 1.2 W m–2, respectively. The simulated total mass balance of –1703mmw.e. exceeded the observed total by 90 mm w.e. Daily positive accumulated temperature and low albedo were the main factors accelerating glacier melt. An uncertainty assessment showed that mass balance was very sensitive to albedo and varied by 36% when albedo changed by 0.1.