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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (6): 905-916    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0083-9
Research article     
Ice thickness distribution and volume estimation of Burqin Glacier No. 18 in the Chinese Altay Mountains
JIN Shuang1,2, LI Zhongqin2,*(), WANG Zemin1,*(), WANG Feiteng2, XU Chunhai2, AI Songtao1
1Chinese Antarctic Center of Surveying and Mapping, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China
2State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Science/Tianshan Glaciological Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
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Information on the thickness distribution and volume of glacier ice is highly important for glaciological applications; however, detailed measurements of the ice thickness of many glaciers in the Chinese Altay Mountains remain lacking. Burqin Glacier No. 18 is a northeast-orientated cirque glacier located on the southern side of the Altay Mountains. This study used PulseEKKO® PRO 100A enhancement ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to survey the ice thickness and volume of Burqin Glacier No. 18 in summer 2018. Together with GPR surveying, spatial distributed profiles of the GPR measurements were concurrently surveyed using the real-time kinematic (RTK) global navigation satellite system (GNSS, Unistrong E650). Besides, we used QuickBird, WorldView-2, and Landsat TM to delineate accurate boundary of the glacier for undertaking estimation of glacier ice volume. GPR measurements revealed that the basal topography of profile B1-B2 was flat, the basal topography of profile C1-C2 presented a V-type form, and the basal topography of profile D1-D2 had a typical U-type topographic feature because the bedrock near the central elevation of the glacier was relatively flat. The longitudinal profile A1-A2 showed a ladder-like distribution. Glacier ice was thin at the terminus and its thickness increased gradually from the elevation of approximately 2620 m a.s.l. along the main axis of the glacier tongue with an average value of 80 (±1) m. The average ice thickness of the glacier was determined as 27 (±2) m and its total ice volume was estimated at 0.031 (±0.002) km3. Interpretation of remote sensing images indicated that during 1989-2016, the glacier area reduced from 1.30 to 1.17 km2 (reduction of 0.37%/a) and the glacier terminus retreated at the rate of 8.48 m/a. The mean ice thickness of Burqin Glacier No. 18 was less than that of the majority of other observed glaciers in China, especially those in the Qilian Mountains and Central Chinese Tianshan Mountains; this is probably attributable to differences in glacier type and climatic setting.

Key wordsglacier ice thickness      glacier ice volume      glacier area      ground-penetrating radar      Bayesian kriging method mountain glacier     
Received: 03 June 2020      Published: 10 November 2020
Corresponding Authors: Zhongqin LI,Zemin WANG     E-mail:;
About author: *LI Zhongqin (E-mail:;
Cite this article:

JIN Shuang, LI Zhongqin, WANG Zemin, WANG Feiteng, XU Chunhai, AI Songtao. Ice thickness distribution and volume estimation of Burqin Glacier No. 18 in the Chinese Altay Mountains. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(6): 905-916.

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Fig. 1 Overview of Burqin Glacier No. 18 and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) measuring profiles of the glacier in 2018. The blue line is the glacier boundary in 2016 as derived from WorldView-2 image. A1-A2, longitudinal profile; B1-B2, C1-C2, and D1-D2, transverse profiles.
Fig. 2 Photos of Burqin Glacier No. 18 (a) and acquisition of GPR measurements on the longitudinal profile on the glacier (b)
Fig. 3 Processed radargrams showing transverse section profiles B1-B2 (a), C1-C2 (b), and D1-D2 (c) of Burqin Glacier No. 18. The x-axis indicates the distance from the beginning point of the GPR survey. The left and right vertical axes of each panel in the figure indicate glacier ice thickness and two-way travel time of the electromagnetic radar wave, respectively.
Fig. 4 Processed radargram showing the longitudinal section profile A1-A2 of Burqin Glacier No. 18 (a), and the longitudinal section profile A1-A2 and ice-bed interface in the left panel being calibrated by elevation and ice thickness (b)
Fig. 5 Temporal variation of terminus of Burqin Glacier No. 18 during 1989-2016 (a), and images showing the boundary of Burqin Glacier No. 18 in 2002 (b) and 2016 (c). The background images in 2002 and 2016 are from the QuickBird and WorldView-2 satellites, respectively.
Fig. 6 Spatial distribution of interpolated ice thickness. The background image is from the WorldView-2 satellite.
Fig. 7 Basal topography of Burqin Glacier No. 18 (contour interval: 40 m). The background image is from the WorldView-2 satellite.
Mountain Glacier Mean ice thickness (m) Survey year Change rate of area
Period Source
Nyainqêntanglha Mountains Gurenhekou Glacier 36.0 2007 - - Ma et al. (2008)
Central Himalayas Kangwure Glacier 26.4 2008 -1.01 1974-2008 Ma et al. (2010)
Kunlun Mountains Meikuang Glacier 26.0 2015 -0.42 1969-2015 Li et al. (2018)
Karakorum Mountains Gani Glacier 51.0 2018 - - Jin and Tian (2019)
Nyainqêntanglha Mountains Zhadang Glacier 38.1 2011 -0.68 1970-2010 Zhu et al. (2014)
Qiangtang Plateau Qiangtang Glacier No. 1 51.0 2013 - - Zhu et al. (2014)
Eastern Tianshan Mountains Yushugou Glacier No. 6 50.0* 2011 - - Wang et al. (2015)
Eastern Tianshan Mountains Sigong River Glacier No. 4 27.6 2009 - - Wang et al. (2014a)
Central Tianshan Mountains Haxilegen Glacier No. 51 39.0 2010 -0.23 1964-2010 Wang et al. (2016a)
Central Tianshan Mountains Urumqi Glacier No. 1 44.5 2012 -0.33 1962-2012 Wang et al. (2016b)
Western Tianshan Mountains Qingbingtan Glacier No. 72 45.0* 2008 -0.49 1964-2008 Wang et al. (2017)
Qilian Mountains Bayi Glacier 54.2 2006 - - Wang et al. (2009)
Sawir Mountains Muz Taw Glacier 60.5 2013 -0.57 1977-2013 Huai et al. (2015)
Altay Mountains Burqin Glacier No. 18 27.0 2018 -0.37 1989-2016 This study
Table 1 Comparison of the mean ice thickness and area change rate for selected glaciers in different Chinese mountain areas
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