Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7bb4899584-6p6dm Total loading time: 0.338 Render date: 2023-01-26T21:36:03.499Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

MODIS-derived interannual variability of the equilibrium-line altitude across the Tibetan Plateau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2016

Marinka Spiess*
Department of Geography, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
Christoph Schneider
Department of Geography, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
Fabien Maussion
lnstitute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
Correspondence: Marinka Spieβ <>
Rights & Permissions[Opens in a new window]


HTML view is not available for this content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

Using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Level 1 radiance Swath Data (MOD02QKM) with a spatial resolution of 250 m, we derive snowlines during July–September 2001–12 for several mountain ranges distributed across the Tibetan Plateau (TP). Radiance bands 1 and 2 are projected to the study area and processed automatically. The discrimination between snow and ice is done using a k-mean cluster analysis and the snowlines are delineated based on a fixed percentile of the snow-cover altitude. The highest transient snowline altitude is then taken as a proxy for the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA). In the absence of measured glaciological, meteorological or hydrological data, our ELA time series enable better understanding of atmosphere-cryosphere couplings on the TP. Interannual ELA variability is linked to local and remote climate indices using a correlation analysis. Southerly flow and higher temperatures are linked with a higher ELA in most regions. Eastern and Trans-Himalayan sites show positive correlations between winter temperatures and ELA. As winter temperatures are substantially below zero, this suggests an enhancement of winter sublimation as opposed to a reduction in accumulation. It appears that large-scale atmospheric forcing has varying and sometimes opposite influences on the annual ELA in different regions on the TP.

Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright © The Author(s) 2016


Bolch, T and 7 others (2010) A glacier inventory for the western Nyainqentanglha Range and the Nam Co Basin, Tibet, and glacier changes 1976-2009. Cryosphere, 4, 419433 (doi: 10.51 94/tc-4-419-2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Braithwaite, RJ and Raper, SCB (2010) Estimating equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) from glacier inventory data. Ann. Glaciol., 50 (53), 127132 (doi: 10.3189/172756410790595930)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brun, F and 8 others (2015) Seasonal changes in surface albedo of Himalayan glaciers from MODIS data and links with the annual mass balance. Cryosphere, 9 (1), 341355 (doi: 10.51 94/tc-9-341-2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Curio, J, Maussion, F and Scherer, D (2015) A 12-year high-resolution climatology of atmospheric water transport over the Tibetan Plateau. Earth Syst. Dyn., 6, 109124 (doi: 10.51 94/esd-6-109-2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dumont, M and 6 others (2012) Linking glacier annual mass balance and glacier albedo retrieved from MODIS data. Cryosphere, 6 (4), 23632398 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-1 527-2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gardelle, J, Berthier, E, Arnaud, Y and Kääb, A (2013) Region-wide glacier mass balances over the Pamir-Karakoram-Himalaya during 1 999-2011. Cryosphere, 7 (6), 18851886 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-1263-2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, DK, Riggs, CA and Salomonson, VV (2006, updated daily) MODIS/Terra Snow Cover 5-min L2 Swath 500m V005, 1 July to 30 September, 2001 to 2012. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO. Digital media Google Scholar
Hedin, S (1909) Transhimalaya, 3 vols. F.A. Brockhaus, Leipzig Google Scholar
Huintjes, E (2014) Energy and mass balance modelling for glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau -extension, validation and application of a coupled snow and energy balance model. (Doctoral dissertation, RWTH Aachen University) Google Scholar
Kääb, A, Treichler, D, Nuth, C and Berthier, E (2015) Brief Communication. Contending estimates of 2003-2008 glacier mass balance over the Pamir-Karakoram-Himalaya. Cryosphere, 9 (2), 557564 (doi: 10.51 94/tc-9-557-2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maussion, F, Scherer, D, Mölg, T, Collier, E, Curio, J and Finkelnburg, R (2014) Precipitation seasonality and variability over the Tibetan Plateau as resolved by the High Asia Reanalysis. J. Climate, 27 (5), 19101927 (doi: 10.11 75/JCLI-D-1 3-00282.1)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mernild, S, Pelto, M, Malmros, JK, Yde, JC, Knudsen, NT and Hanna, E (2013) Identification of snow ablation rate, ELA, AAR and net mass balance using transient snowline variations on two Arctic glaciers. J. Claciol., 59 (216), 649659 (doi: 10.3189/2013JoC12J221)Google Scholar
Mölg, T, Maussion, F and Scherer, D (2013) Mid-latitude westerlies as a driver of glacier variability in monsoonal High Asia. Nature Climate Change (doi: 10.1038/nclimate2O55)Google Scholar
Neckel, N, Braun, A, Kropáček, J and Hochschild, V (2013) Recent mass balance of the Purogangri Ice Cap, central Tibetan Plateau, by means of differential X-band SAR interferometry. Cryosphere, 7 (5) (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-1623-2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pelto, M and Brown, C (2012) Mass balance loss of Mount Baker, Washington glaciers 1990-2010. Hydrol. Process., 26 (17), 26012607 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.9453)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pfeffer, WT and 75 others (2014) The Randolph Glacier Inventory: a globally complete inventory of glaciers. J.Claciol., 60 (221), 537551 (doi: 10.31 89/2014JoC1 3J176)Google Scholar
Rupper, S and Roe, G (2008) Glacier changes and regional climate: a mass and energy balance approach. J. Climate, 21, 53845401 (doi: 10.1175/2008JCLI2219.1)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shea, JM, Menounos, B, Moore, RD and Tennant, C (2013) An approach to derive regional snowlines and glacier mass change from MODIS imagery, western North America. Cryosphere, 7 (2) (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-667-2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shi, Y and Liu, S (2000) Estimation on the response of glaciers in China to the global warming in the 21st century. Chinese Sci. Bull., 45 (7), 668672 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spieβ, M, Maussion, F, Moller, M, Scherer, D and Schneider, C (2015) MODIS derived equilibrium line altitude estimates for Purogangri ice cap, Tibetan Plateau, and their relation to climatic predictors (2001-2012). Ceogr. Ann. A, 20, 117 (doi: 10.1111/geoa.12102)Google Scholar
Styron, RH and 6 others (2013) Miocene initiation and acceleration of extension in the South Lunggar rift, western Tibet: evolution of an active detachment system from structural mapping and (U-Th)/He thermochronology. Tectonics, 32(4), 880907 Google Scholar
Tian, L, Zong, J, Yao, T, Ma, L, Pu, J and Zhu, D (2014) Direct measurement of glacier thinning on the southern Tibetan Plateau (Gurenhekou, Kangwure and Naimona'Nyi glaciers. J.Claciol., 60 (223), 879888 (doi: 10.31 89/2014JoG14J022)Google Scholar
Town, J (2008) The sliding snow of Tachab Kangri. Alp. J., 113 (357), 8492 Google Scholar
Wu, H, Wang, N, Jiang, X and Guo, Z (2014) Variations in water level and glacier mass balance in Nam Co lake, Nyainqentanglha range, Tibetan Plateau, based on ICESat data for 2003-09. Ann. Claciol., 55 (66), 239247 (doi: 10.31 89/2014AoG66A100)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yao, T and 14 others (2012) Different glacier status with atmospheric circulations in Tibetan Plateau and surroundings. Nature Climate Change, 2 (9), 663667 (doi: 10.1038/nclimate1580)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ye, Q, Chen, F, Stein, A and Zhong, Z (2009) Use of a multi-temporal grid method to analyze changes in glacier coverage in the Tibetan Plateau. Progr. Natural Sci., 19 (7), 861872 (doi: 10.101 6/j.pnsc.2008.12.002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhang, Y, Fujita, K, Ageta, Y, Nakawo, M, Yao, T and Pu, J (1998) The response of glacier ELA to climate fluctuations on High-Asia. Bull. Glacier Res., 16, 111 Google Scholar
Zhang, G, Xie, H, Kang, S, Yi, D and Ackley, SF (2011) Monitoring lake level changes on the Tibetan Plateau using ICESat altimetry data (2003-2009). Remote Sens. Environ., 115 (7), 17331742 (doi: 10.101 6/j.rse.2O11.03.005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
You have Access Open access
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

MODIS-derived interannual variability of the equilibrium-line altitude across the Tibetan Plateau
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

MODIS-derived interannual variability of the equilibrium-line altitude across the Tibetan Plateau
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

MODIS-derived interannual variability of the equilibrium-line altitude across the Tibetan Plateau
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *