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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 12 Nov 2018

Research article | 12 Nov 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

High Mountain Asia glacier elevation trends 2003–2008, lake volume changes 1990–2015, and their relation to precipitation changes

Désirée Treichler1, Andreas Kääb1, Nadine Salzmann2, and Chong-Yu Xu1 Désirée Treichler et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Sem Sælands vei 1, 0371 Oslo, Norway
  • 2Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Chemin du Musée 4, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland

Abstract. We present an updated, spatially resolved estimate of 2003–2008 glacier volume changes for entire High Mountain Asia (HMA) from ICESat laser altimetry data. The results reveal a diverse pattern that is driven by spatially greatly varying glacier sensitivity, in particular to precipitation availability and changes. We introduce a spatially resolved zonation where ICESat samples are grouped into units of similar glacier behaviour, glacier type, and topographic settings. In several regions, our new zonation reveals local differences and anomalies that have not been described previously. A step-increase in precipitation around 1997–2000 on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) caused thickening of glaciers in the Eastern Pamirs, Kunlun Shan and central TP by 0.1–0.7 m a−1. The thickening anomaly has a crisp boundary in the Eastern Pamir that continues just north of the central Karakoram. Glaciers in the south and east of the TP were thinning, with increasing rates towards southeast. The precipitation increase is reflected by growth of endorheic lakes in particular in the northern and eastern TP. We estimate lake volume changes through a combination of repeat lake extents from Landsat data and shoreline elevations from ICESat and the SRTM DEM for over 1300 lakes. The rise in water volume contained in the lakes corresponds to 4–25 m a−1, when distributed over entire catchments, for the areas where we see glacier thickening. The precipitation increase is also visible in sparse in-situ measurements and MERRA-2 climate reanalysis data, but less well in ERA Interim reanalysis data. Considering evaporation loss, the difference between average annual precipitation during the 1990s and 2000s suggested by these datasets is 34–100 m a−1, depending on region, which can fully explain both lake growth, and glacier thickening (Kunlun Shan) or glacier geometry changes (eastern TP). The precipitation increase reflected in these glacier changes possibly extended to the northern slopes of the Tarim Basin, where glaciers were nearly in balance in 2003–2008. Along the entire Himalaya, glaciers on the first orographic ridge, which are exposed to abundant precipitation, are thinning less than glaciers in the dryer climate of the inner ranges. Thinning rates in the Tien Shan vary spatially but are rather stronger than in other parts of HMA.

Désirée Treichler et al.
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Désirée Treichler et al.
Désirée Treichler et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Glacier growth such as found on the Tibetan Plateau is counter-intuitive in a warming world. Climate models and meteorological data are conflicting about the reasons for this glacier anomaly. We quantify the glacier changes over the Tibetan Plateau using satellite laser altimetry and the growth of over 1300 inland lakes. Our study suggests that increases in summer precipitation are likely the largest contributor to the observed increases in glacier and lake masses.
Glacier growth such as found on the Tibetan Plateau is counter-intuitive in a warming world....