1College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, China
2Key Laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China
3State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
4CSC-IT Center for Science Ltd., Espoo, Finland
5Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, P.O. Box 122, 96101 Rovaniemi, Finland
6Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Villavägen 16, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden
Abstract. We investigate the impact of climate change on a small Tibetan glacier that is representative of the tens of thousands of mountain glaciers in the region. We apply a three-dimensional, thermo-mechanically coupled full-Stokes model to Gurenhekou Glacier located in the southern Tibetan Plateau. The steep and rugged geometry requires use of such a flow model to simulate the dynamical evolution of the glacier. We parameterize the temperature and mass balance using nearby automatic weather stations and an energy balance model for another glacier in the same mountain range. Summer air temperature increased at 0.02 K a−1 over the past 50 yr, and the glacier has retreated at an average rate of 8.3 m a−1. Prognostic simulations suggest an accelerated retreating rate up to 14 m a−1 for the next 50 yr under continued steady warming, which is consistent with observed increased retreat in the last decade. However, regional climate models suggest a marked increase in warming rate over Tibet during the 21st century, and this rate causes about a 1% per year loss of glaciated area and glacier volume. These changes imply that this small glacier will probably disappear in a century. Although Tibetan glaciers are not particularly sensitive to climate warming, the rather high warming rates predicted by regional climate models combined with the small sizes of most Tibetan glaciers suggest that significant numbers of glaciers will be lost in the region during the 21st century.