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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-211
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-211
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 18 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 18 Nov 2019

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

Substantial meltwater contribution to the Brahmaputra revealed by satellite gravimetry

Shuang Yi1,2, Chunqiao Song3, Kosuke Heki2, Shichang Kang4, Qiuyu Wang5, and Le Chang5 Shuang Yi et al.
  • 1Institute of Geodesy, University of Stuttgart, 70174 Stuttgart, Germany
  • 2Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan
  • 3Key Laboratory of Watershed Geographic Sciences, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing, 210008, China
  • 4State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • 5Key Laboratory of Computational Geodynamics, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China

Abstract. High Asia glaciers were observed to be reducing the fastest in the southeastern Tibet Plateau (SETP), where vast amounts of glacier and snow (GS) feed the streamflow of the Brahmaputra, a transboundary river linking the world's two most populous countries China and India. However, the low temporal resolutions in previous studies obscured the seasonal accumulation/ablation variations, and their modelling estimates were divergent. Here we use monthly satellite gravimetry observations from August 2002 to June 2017 to estimate GS mass variation in the SETP. We find that the spring-accumulation type glaciers and winter snow in the SETP are the most abundant in May. This is in stark contrast to seasonal variations in terrestrial water storage, which reaches its maximum in August and is controlled by summer precipitation. These two seasonal variations are mutually orthogonal and can be easily separated in time-variable gravity observations. Our results show a summer meltwater contribution of 43 ± 8 Gt to the Brahmaputra. This value could help to resolve previous divergent modelling estimates and underlines the importance of meltwater to the Brahmaputra streamflow. The high sensitivity between GS melting and temperature on both annual and monthly scales suggests that the Brahmaputra will suffer from not only changes in total annual discharge, but also an earlier runoff peak due to the ongoing global warming.

Shuang Yi et al.
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